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Why Polaroid’s Cube Action Cam is Special

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Shopping for an action camera is like shopping for adhesive bandages: you either buy Band-Aids … or you pick up something  called “Aid Plus Bandages” because they’re on sale. And when you bring them home, you just call them Band-Aids anyway.

The proverbial Band-Aid in the action cam market is GoPro, the unquestioned dominating power and perhaps the tastiest, too. There have been challengers but none have taken a particularly large share of the market.

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It’s very likely that isn’t going to change, but Polaroid’s Cube — the latest new arrival to the action cam market for which pre-sales began Monday — is definitely the most interesting GoPro alternative to show up in years.

An early version of the Cube — then known as the much less interesting Polaroid C3 — first appeared at the Consumer Electronics Show back in January. Back then it was relatively uninteresting, a by-the-numbers action cam that happen to be cubical. And while the specs haven’t changed much in the intervening time, it got an extra megapixel (it now has six megapixels instead of five), the video was upgraded from 720p to 1080p, and the design got a nice facelift. Plus, the $100 price tag that’s been announced places it amongst the most affordable action cams.

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More importantly, though, it got a personality.

Check out the YouTube advertisement released in June when Polaroid announced the final specs for their geometric “lifestyle action camera.” It portrays an anonymous creative guy with a trendy beard bumming around San Francisco with a MacBook and a Fixie bike.

Note: there are no surfers involved in the whole thing. Seriously, no surfing. Do you know how rare that is? Consider these promotional videos:

  1. Garmin Virb – Surfing
  2. Sony HDR-AS30V – Surfing
  3. Drift Ghost-S – Surfing
  4. JVC Adixxion – Surfing
  5. Toshiba Camileo – Surfing
  6. GoPro Hero 3+ Black – Surfing
  7. iOn Air Pro – Surfing

I get it, surfing shots are fun and show off the camera’s durability, but when everybody seems to be desperately appealing to the surfer demographic, they’re surely leaving a lot of non-surfers (most people) standing on the shore.

Polaroid’s Cube comes in bright colors and utilizes built-in magnets to make it easy to affix to stable, slow-moving objects. One of the initial mounts released for the camera will be shaped like a monkey.

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And the award for creativity in naming goes to…

And, perhaps most interestingly, initial sales for the camera are being launched through Photojojo, a quirky online photo-store that could probably be called the American Outfitters of the photography industry.

You can’t find them on B&H, Adorama, or even Amazon.

If it sounds kind of like a joke, that’s probably because it kind of is. The tone of all the marketing is silly and relaxed — no swooping house music or crazy stunts like marketing efforts for this type of product normally feature. It doesn’t feel like a GoPro redux, it feels like something different — and that’s entirely the point.

Most of the time when competitors try to take sneak off with a piece of the mountain of gold that GoPro sits on, they focus on one of two things: price or specs.

But it doesn’t really work. Since at least last year, when GizMag compared the leading action cams on the market, GoPro hasn’t had the longest battery life, the highest resolution, the greatest dive depth, the lowest weight, and definitely not the lowest price. It has other benefits, sure, like the most fleshed out mount-catalog of any action cam and at least a small variety of third party accessories, but these are the result of nearly a decade of experimentation and community-building and are not something a newcomer can easily mimic.

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The Polaroid Cube doesn’t even come close to touching the top-of-the line GoPro stats or extreme sports chops — although it does come in significantly cheaper. One gets the sense that Polaroid didn’t even try, probably because they didn’t.

Instead, they wrote (or are trying to write) a different story with a different protagonist. And while number crunching and pixel-peeping is seemingly the law of the land among photography gear-heads, everyday consumers — the type that built GoPro’s empire and that Polaroid is targeting — care about the story.

That’s why Beats by Dre are everywhere, why MacBooks positively blanket college campuses, and why maybe, just maybe, Polaroid’s Cube has the best chance to taking some of GoPro’s spotlight of any action cam in recent memory.


Image Credit: Images courtesy of Polaroid


 
  • http://www.mauriciomatos.com Mauricio Matos

    GoPro is like the Apple of Action Cams…it has a following, it has a huge ecosystem of accessories. It doesn’t matter if the competition may have slightly better specs in some areas or a better price.

  • MEEfO

    That’s a highly reductive and ultimately ignorant statement. Well done!

  • http://www.mauriciomatos.com Mauricio Matos

    What’s so wrong about it? By the way…I’m a user of both GoPro Cameras and Apple hardware.

  • markz

    fixie… cough, cough… what fixie

    as an ex velodrome rider and some one who worked as a bike courier (bicycle messenger in US terminology) to pay my way through uni (collage in US …..) I know a fixie when I see it and I not seeing a fixie… the single, cabled up, shifter on the downtube along with the rear cluster visible in the full hd version (see 20sec.) are dead give aways.

    OK…OK…

    now that’s just me being a pedantic bastard

    aside from that – at that size and that price this is almost a no brainer to throw one in the bag or just have it sitting on your camera’s hot shoe looking like a old fashioned kodak flash cube running while you do a photo shoot…..

    no audio? (certainly no one seems to have specs on, or lack of, the audio)

  • http://instagram.com/julien_grimard Julien

    I’m also worried about the audio. I’d like to get one to pass around on the set when shooting video to film making ofs of the shoot since it’s so cheap, but if the audio is crap then it’s definitely not interesting for this…

  • Renato Murakami

    I’m not shure that’s the right way to do it, but GoPros are becoming so… erm… high end these days (as weird as that may sound) that perhaps there could be a market for something cheaper with lower specs – for casual usage.

    Then again, there are even cheaper and smaller cameras with lower specs. Perhaps Polaroid (or some other company) should not only invest in the hardware itself (and pairing it with third party promotional stuff), but go for the full social package – a sharing app and network, easy to use software, etc etc.

    It’s one point most GoPro competitors failed “getting”, and why the company keeps relevant despite so many attacks by big corporations – waaaay bigger than GoPro – like Sony, JVC and Garmin. Not only GoPro has the best hardware overall (competition might win in some specs, but not on the entire package), they also managed to secure lots of things over time: quality accessories, unbeatable community, apps on several platforms, big name sponsorship, lots of prominent artists using their gear, and lots of strong points built on community feedback – which is often professional.

    Also, honestly, I don’t see GoPros as cameras targeted to surfers alone… it of course is one of the big targets, but lately I’ve been watching GoPro ads that are going just about everywhere. Still mainly stunts and extreme sports I guess.

    Back on the idea… if they are going to sell it “for everyone”, the community side has to be incredibly strong. It’s the problem with cameras overall. GoPro has a very clear and focused target with extreme sports and stunts. This Polaroid Cube needs something similar. As there is no specific target, it needs some sort of strong community that will direct some sort of objective. Because otherwise, people will buy it, take it around for a while, quickly realize they never actually use it, and then shove it in the back of some drawer never to be seen again. :P

  • MMielech

    Nice. There’s a movement among cyclists (of which I am one) to carry a video camera on their bike (of which I am not one, yet) to record possible confrontations with motorists. Sort of the same reason the Russian dash cam cameras exist. This should make that easier. The GoPro is a bit large and clunky, considering 2014 technology and design.

  • MMielech

    That is a real insult to Apple products. Steve Jobs would recoil in horror if one of his people brought that ugly product into his office.

  • http://www.mauriciomatos.com Mauricio Matos

    I wasn’t talking about looks. I don’t buy Apple stuff for its looks even if a lot of people do. I was taking about the market share and the way other companies, some of them very big, like Sony, have been trying to get into it and haven’t been successful. That’s why I compared the situation with Apple. I don’t know how old you are but when the iPod was king among mp3 players, there were a lot of companies trying to release arguably better players with a lower price point and just couldn’t even get a marginal market share. Once you have the “cool factor” and the accessories ecosystem, it’s very hard to compete.

    And by the way…I know the iPod is still king but I was taking about the beginning of the iPod era.

  • MMielech

    Betcha I’m older than you. So, speaking of Sony, I remember the massive popularity of the Walkman. Nuff said.

  • http://www.mauriciomatos.com Mauricio Matos

    Exactly. You’re just confirming what I’m saying. The cool factor, the market dominance. On those days, the walkman was king and other companies had their own portable players as well, like JVC.

  • MMielech

    You didn’t get it. The Walkman doesn’t exist anymore, because a better product was invented. What makes you so sure that the ugly, clunky, and very faddish go pro won’t see the same fate? Because a lot of people own one? Please.

  • http://www.mauriciomatos.com Mauricio Matos

    Because technology evolves and tapes are gone as well. Are you comparing a tape player to an mp3 player? Because my comment was about similar products, not 2 products 20 years apart.

    But whatever man. We’re way off topic. It was just my opinion, I don’t pretend it to be yours.

    Cheers.

  • prometheus1010

    Wish it had wifi for smartphone connectivity. Polaroid could also try and cash in on some of their brand cache with a wireless printer. Though this would likely make ti larger and more expensive.

  • eric westpheling

    I like the idea of a tiny cube camera you can hold up to your eye: Using a 1″ sensor with a fixed 6mm matched/perfect lens! Have it auto-expose to the right, and dump a DNG to a micro SD and done! No need for a screen- if its in front of you its in the frame! Maybe a bubble level stuck to the back too!

    Take my money!

  • lexplex

    I might be tempted to get one of these, but absence of interval / timelapse takes a lot of the appeal away, as does their habit of using the phrase ‘high quality 1080p’ over and over again in the marketing material, when I’d actually describe it as ‘toy quality lens with 1080p output’. Seriously, nobody would ever describe that video output as ‘high quality’, but that’s not a bad thing – just better to be honest.

  • Sean Lucky

    It drives me nuts that people need to associate a, “hip,” bike with automatically being a fixed gear. There are very real reasons to ride a fixie, even outside the velodrome.

  • Rob S

    I want one to mount on the hot shoe of my DSLR. Get video and stills at the same time.

  • Rob S

    this. Also have one for situations where someone might take offense to what you are shooting – record interactions with authorities or crazy women (http://photographyisnotacrime.com/2014/08/07/connecticut-woman-given-slap-wrist-violent-battery-quadcopter-pilot/)

  • David Vaughn

    Yes, but many of those reasons are lost to the general public when it’s a bunch of college students cutting in front of cars to ride half a block to class every day on their lime green fixie with pink wheels.

  • greenarcher02

    Well, he’s not wrong. I actually am considering the Sony Action Cam (AS100V) instead of GoPro.

  • Mario Ribeiro

    Yes, but the image quality doesn’t look great.

  • Mako

    If you watch TV … you are watching GoPro shots all of the time. The fact that you can’t necessarily ID them shows how decent they are.

  • http://www.lukeleenz.com/ Luke Lee The Photographer

    I think I know what you mean.

  • Genkakuzai

    Nailed it!

  • Guest

    I agree that GoPro have their fans, but I don’t think they are as loyal as Apple fans. They are just not fantastic enough that people won’t leave them, if something better comes along.
    Look at Sony shaking things up in the SLR world, where people are much more loyal to their brands. If Sony continue to work on their action cam, I’m sure athletes will try them out.
    I’ve had 3 GoPros and I haven’t loved any of them. I bought them, because they were the “only” quality camera out there.

  • http://www.mauriciomatos.com Mauricio Matos

    When I compared GoPro with Apple I was talking more about brand recognition. I’ll give you an example. People used to say “I want an iPod” and not “I want an mp3 player”. Now they say “I want a GoPro”, not “I want a POV camera”.

  • Tyler Hardeman

    The video quality of this is nowhere near the gopro. They aren’t even in the same stratosphere. the cube does 1080p/30 at 8mbit/s bitrate. The GoPro hero 3+ Black can do 1080p/60 at 44mbit/s bitrate. Sure there’s a $300 price difference but do not for one second compare the video quality between the cube and gopro.

    I plan on picking up a cube to have around for when my gopro doesn’t really make sense, but the sample videos I’ve seen show that I won’t be doing much with those videos aside from “this is the best thing I have at the time”. the detail is just not there.